An Essay on the Life of the Honourable Major-General Israel Putnam (Paperback)

Author By David Humphreys
Essay on the Life of the Honourable Major-General Israel Putnam, An 978-0-86597-263-6978-0-86597-263-6
ISBN: 978-0-86597-263-6
List price: $12.00
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By David Humphreys

Publication Date 2000. 5 1/2 x 8 1/4. 172 pages.




David Humphreys was aide-de-camp to Washington during the American Revolution. His Life of Israel Putnam, originally published in 1788, has rightly been described as “the first biography of an American written by an American.” It is, as William C. Dowling observes, “a classic of revolutionary writing, very readable and immensely interesting in what it says about the temper of the new republic in the period immediately after the American Revolution.” The subject—General Israel Putnam—is remembered to history and legend as exclaiming: “Don’t fire ’til you see the whites of their eyes!” to American soldiers at the Battle of Bunker Hill. As Professor Dowling notes, “All the episodes are retold—Bunker Hill, the Battle of White Plains, the crossing of the Delaware, the Battle of Princeton—but from the perspective of one who was there throughout, and who always permits us to see Putnam as the sort of character by whom history is, in the last analysis, made.” Humphreys wrote the biography when formation of the Society of the Cincinnati, composed of men who were officers in the Revolution, “focused debate in the new republic about the competing claims of individual liberty and the good of the community.”

William C. Dowling is a Professor of English at Rutgers University

Table of Contents:

Foreword, ix


A Note on the Text, xxiii


Letter to the Honourable Colonel Jeremiah Wadsworth, 1
An Essay on the Life of the Honourable Major-General Israel Putnam, 5
An Oration on the Political Situation of the United States of America in the Year 1789, 127


Index, 141
Product Reviews
David Humphrey’s Life of Israel Putnam, originally published in 1804 and reproduced in a fine edition by Liberty Fund under the editorship of William C. Dowling, reminds us of the noble end and traditional method of biography. The first part of Humphrey’s narrative focuses entirely on character traits in the young Putnam that foretell his later greatness. The latter half of the book illustrates the extent to which Humphreys’ character shaped the destiny of a nation devoted to ordered liberty.
A word should be said here about the quality of the Liberty Fund edition. The cloth-bound version, with its high-quality illustrations, sewn bookmark, and easy-on-the-eyes print set on sturdy paper, would adorn anyone’s bookshelf; at eighteen dollars, the Liberty Fund edition would be a good buy at double the price (a very good paper edition is available for ten dollars). The Liberty Fund edition also includes a couple of bonuses: a speech by Humphreys, “An Oration on the Political Situation of the United States of America in the Year 1789,” and a letter from George Washington to Putnam, in regards the debt the newly created nation owes its first veterans.

Major-General Israel Putnam (1718-90) is best known today for an utterance he supposedly made during the battle of Bunker Hill, “don’t fire ‘til you see the whites of their eyes,” but his fame ought to rest on a more substantial foundation–which is something Humphreys sought to create with his biographical account. Humphreys (1752-1818) served as Putnam’s aide-de-camp during the American Revolution. Much of the material here comes from either Humphreys’ own observations or from Putnam himself. . . .Humphreys’ Life of Israel Putnam is thus an ambassador from another time, not only for the vivid picture it gives of the kinds of men who delivered to posterity the American republic but also because the book shows how biography ought to be written.

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